Some questions have been answered at this point in the National League East. Jacob deGrom is still quite good. The depleted Braves will again find almost any way to win. The upstart Marlins may have arrived sooner than we all thought.
But there’s still plenty left that needs uncovering, especially with the Trade Deadline looming at the end of the month. This week, MLB.com asked each of its beat reporters a simple question: Ahead of Aug. 31, what’s the biggest question facing the team you cover?
Among the National League East crew, here are their answers … and their questions.
Braves: Can Folty be a reliable September option?
There’s no doubt the Braves need to focus on fortifying a fractured rotation. Cole Hamels likely won’t be activated before the middle of September, and the challenge of landing a frontline starter via trade will be greater than in previous years. So before the Braves look at the possibility of giving up a top prospect for an upper-tier starter, they need to evaluate the progress of Mike Foltynewicz, who has regained some weight and arm strength since being outrighted to the team’s alternate training site in July. The former All-Star is expected to begin throwing off a mound again soon. If he shows he’s regained some of his velocity, the team might gamble on him being the impact addition to the rotation. -- Mark Bowman
Marlins: How will the state of the rotation evolve?
Three top starters -- Sandy Alcantara, Caleb Smith and José Ureña -- remain on the injured list as part of the 18 Marlins players who tested positive for COVID-19. Thus far, the Marlins are patching together the rotation, with Pablo López, Elieser Hernandez and Jordan Yamamoto stepping up. Beyond those three, the club is dipping into its prospect pool. Alcantara, Smith and Ureña have yet to be cleared to start throwing. Top prospect Sixto Sánchez could become an option later this month or in September, but the 22-year-old hasn’t pitched above Double-A. The Marlins have a deep farm system, with six players on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 list. Miami has not been in the playoffs since 2003 or had a winning season since ‘09, and it's clearly in “win-now” mode. If necessary, it may be tempted to make a trade for rotation help. -- Joe Frisaro
Mets: How big is the rotation problem?
The Mets’ offense should be fine, despite some early issues with runners in scoring position. The bullpen is already rounding into form. But the rotation is a significant issue, with Noah Syndergaard out for the year and Marcus Stroman electing not to play due to COVID-19 concerns.
The rest of the rotation, outside of deGrom and rookie David Peterson, is not performing up to standard. Michael Wacha is on the injured list with right shoulder inflammation. Steven Matz and Rick Porcello have struggled. Before the Mets can even think about investing future capital in a win-now trade, they’ll need to determine if Wacha is healthy, and if Matz and Porcello can figure out their issues. If so, this can still be a playoff contender. If not, the Mets are going to be in trouble regardless of what they do at the Trade Deadline. -- Anthony DiComo
Phillies: Will somebody step up?
The Phillies’ bullpen has been abysmal the first few weeks of the season. They already made a couple of moves, calling up two arms from their alternate site in Allentown, Pa., on Tuesday to try to improve things. Pitching coach Bryan Price recently said that they need their Bullpen 2.0 to step up. Who is Bullpen 2.0? It’s everybody not named Héctor Neris, Tommy Hunter, José Álvarez and Adam Morgan. The Phillies know what those four can do, but they need at least a couple of their remaining arms to step up between now and the Trade Deadline to know how far they need to go for bullpen help. -- Todd Zolecki
Nationals: Will Strasburg be healthy enough to pitch at his usual level?
After becoming the first player to go 5-0 in the postseason and winning the World Series MVP Award, Stephen Strasburg finished 2019 stronger than anyone else. His epic momentum was halted last month, when he began experiencing a nerve issue in his right hand that held him out from his first two starts of the season. When he made his ’20 debut on Sunday, the lingering effects crept in toward the end of his 4 1/3-inning appearance.
“To be honest, I felt it,” Strasburg said. “ … That's something I haven't quite figured out, how to pitch through it yet.” The 32-year-old does not think he is doing long-term harm by throwing, and his health is imperative to the Nationals’ success. They need their No. 2 starter as an anchor in their rotation to contend for back-to-back World Series championships. -- Jessica Camerato